2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who should the Bears sign, Allen Hurns or Cam Meredith?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who should the Bears sign, Allen Hurns or Cam Meredith?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times), Chris Emma (670 The Score) and Ben Finfer join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel.

Allen Robinson’s former Jaguars teammate is a free agent. Would signing Allen Hurns make sense for the Bears?

Plus, Loyola has traffic problems on the Road to the Final Four and the guys debate the biggest need for the Blackhawks heading into a long offseason.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

USA Today

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

Kyle Fuller caused a bit of a panic late Friday afternoon when a report dropped that he signed an offer sheet with the Green Bay Packers. For a few hours, the prospect — even if it was always unlikely — of the Bears losing their best cornerback to their arch rivals to the north loomed over Chicago. 

For Fuller, though, he said he barely had time to think about the possibility of cashing in on his breakout 2017 season with the Packers. The Bears quickly matched the offer sheet, officially announcing the four-year deal Tuesday that makes Fuller one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. 

“It was crazy not really knowing what to expect,” Fuller said. “I would have never expected it. But when (the Packers’ offer sheet) came, it was definitely something to consider, just on the business side of it. At the end of the day, how it all played out, I’m definitely happy.”

Fuller sounded like someone who took a more passive role to his quasi-restricted free agency that was set about when the Bears placed the transition tag on him, allowing them to match any offer sheet that he were to sign. Fuller said he didn’t know all the details of what was going on with offer sheets coming in and negotiations with the Bears.

“I kinda was just getting the information from (my agents) and going with the flow of everything and knowing that at the end of the day it would end up working out,” Fuller said. 

The $14 million average annual value of Fuller’s contract ranks fifth among cornerbacks, behind only Washington’s Josh Norman ($15 million), New York’s Trumaine Johnson ($14.5 million) Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes ($14.02 million) and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($14.01 million), according to Spotrac. 

Fuller said he considers himself a top-five cornerback in the league, and he played like someone who could wind up in that discussion in 2017. The 2014 first-round pick was one of four players to break up 20 or more passes last year, and he picked off two passes in December while providing excellent support against the run. 

“We could not be happier to have Kyle under contract for four more years,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “We feel he is an ascending player on our top 10 defense and we look forward to him having many more productive seasons here in Chicago.”